History of Egypt under the British
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History of Egypt under the British refers to the era from 1882 when the British succeeded in defeating the Egyptian Army at Tel El Kebir in September and took control of the country to the 1952 Egyptian revolution which made Egypt a republic and when British advisers were expelled.
Throughout the 19th century, the ruling dynasty of Egypt had spent vast sums of money on infrastructural development of Egypt. However, in keeping with its own military and foreign origin, the dynasty's economic development was almost wholly oriented toward military dual use goals. Consequently, despite vast sums of European and other foreign capital, actual economic production and resulting revenues was insufficient toward repaying the loans. Consequently, the country teetered toward economic dissolution and implosion. In turn, European and foreign finances took control of the treasury of Egypt, forgave debt in return for taking control of the Suez Canal, and reoriented economic development toward capital gain.
However, by 1882 Islamic and Arabic Nationalist opposition to European influence and settlement in the Middle East led to growing tension amongst notable natives, especially in Egypt which then as now, was the most powerful, populous, and influential of Arabian nations. The most dangerous opposition during this period was coming from the Albanian- and Mamluke-dominated Egyptian army which saw the reorientation of economic development away from their control as a threat to their privileges.
A large military demonstration in September 1881 forced the Khedive Tewfiq to dismiss his Prime Minister and rule by decree. Hundreds of European and allied Egyptian persons were murdered and thousands more were targeted for terrorism. Many of the Europeans retreated to specially designed quarters suited for defence or heavily Christian and European settled cities such as Alexandria.
Consequently, in April 1882 France and Great Britain sent warships to Alexandria to bolster the Khedive amidst a turbulent climate and protect European lives and property. In turn, Egyptian nationalists spread fear of invasion throughout the country to bolster Islamic and Arabian revolutionary action. Tawfiq moved to Alexandria for fear of his own safety as army officers led by Ahmed Urabi began to take control of the government. By June, Egypt was in the hands of nationalists opposed to European domination of the country and the new revolutionary government began nationalizing all assets in Egypt. Anti-European violence broke out in Alexandria, prompting a British naval bombardment of the city. Fearing the intervention of outside powers or the seizure of the canal by Islamists in conjunction with an Islamic revolution in the Empire of India, the British led an Anglo-Indian expeditionary force at both ends of the Suez Canal in August 1882. Simultaneously, French forces landed in Alexandria and the northern end of the canal. Both joined together and manoeuvred to meet the Egyptian army. The combined Anglo-French-Indian army easily defeated the Egyptian Army at at Tel El Kebir in September and took control of the country putting Tawfiq back in control.
The purpose of the invasion had been to restore political stability to Egypt under a government of the Khedive and international controls which were in place to streamline Egyptian financing since 1876. It is unlikely that the British expected a long-term occupation from the outset; however, Lord Cromer, Britain's Chief Representative in Egypt at the time, viewed Egypt's financial reforms as part of a long-term objective. Cromer took the view that political stability needed financial stability, and embarked on a programme of long term investment in Egypt's productive resources, above all in the cotton economy, the mainstay of the country's export earnings.
In 1906 the Denshawai Incident provoked a questioning of British rule in Egypt. This was exploited in turn by the German Empire which began re-organizing, funding, and expanding anti-British revolutionary nationalist movements. For the first quarter of the 20th century, Britain's main goal in Egypt was penetrating these groups, neutralizing them, and attempting to form more pro-British nationalist groups with which to hand further control. However, by the beginning of World War One British colonial authorities attempted to legitimize their less radical opponents with entrance into the League of Nations including the peace treaty of Versailles. Thus, the Wafd Party was invited and promised full independence in the years ahead. British occupation ended nominally with the UK's 1922 declaration of Egyptian independence, but British military domination of the Egypt lasted until 1936.
Social economic impact
During British occupation and later control, Egypt developed into a regional commercial and trading destination. Immigrants from less stable parts of the region including Greeks, Jews and Armenians, began to flow into Egypt. The number of foreigners in the country rose from 10,000 in the 1840s to around 90,000 in the 1880s, and more than 1.5 million by the 1930s.
Sultanate of Egypt
In 1914 as a result of the declaration of war with the Ottoman Empire, of which Egypt was nominally a part, Britain declared a Protectorate over Egypt and deposed the Khedive, replacing him with a family member who was made Sultan of Egypt by the British. A group known as the Wafd Delegation attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to demand Egypt's independence. Included in the group was political leader, Saad Zaghlul, who would later become Prime Minister. When the group was arrested and deported to the island of Malta, a huge uprising occurred in Egypt.
In the aftermath of World War One, the large British Imperial Army in Egypt which was the centre of operations against the Ottoman Empire was quickly reduced with demobilization and restructuring of garrisons. Free of the large British military presence, the incipient German backed revolutionary movements were able to more effectively launch their operations.
Consequently, from March to April 1919, there were mass demonstrations that became uprisings. This is known in Egypt as the 1919 Revolution. Almost daily demonstrations and unrest continued throughout Egypt for the remainder of the Spring. To the surprise of the British authorities, Egyptian women also demonstrated, led by Huda Sha'rawi (1879–1947), who would become the leading feminist voice in Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century. The first women's demonstration was held on Sunday, 16 March 1919, and was followed by yet another one on Thursday, 20 March 1919. Egyptian women would continue to play an important and increasingly public nationalist role throughout the spring and summer of 1919 and beyond. British suppression of the anticolonial riots led to the death of some 800 people.
In November 1919, the Milner Commission was sent to Egypt by the British to attempt to resolve the situation. In 1920, Lord Milner submitted his report to Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, recommending that the protectorate should be replaced by a treaty of alliance. As a result, Curzon agreed to receive an Egyptian mission headed by Zaghlul and Adli Pasha to discuss the proposals. The mission arrived in London in June 1920 and the agreement was concluded in August 1920. In February 1921, the British Parliament approved the agreement and Egypt was asked to send another mission to London with full powers to conclude a definitive treaty. Adli Pasha led this mission, which arrived in June 1921. However, the Dominion delegates at the 1921 Imperial Conference had stressed the importance of maintaining control over the Suez Canal Zone and Curzon could not persuade his Cabinet colleagues to agree to any terms that Adli Pasha was prepared to accept. The mission returned to Egypt in disgust.
Kingdom of Egypt
In December 1921, the British authorities in Cairo imposed martial law and once again deported Zaghlul. Demonstrations again led to violence. In deference to the growing nationalism and at the suggestion of the High Commissioner, Lord Allenby, the UK unilaterally declared Egyptian independence on 28 February 1922, abolishing the protectorate and establishing an independent Kingdom of Egypt. Sarwat Pasha became prime minister. British influence, however, continued to dominate Egypt's political life and fostered fiscal, administrative, and governmental reforms. Britain retained control of the Canal Zone, Sudan and Egypt's external protection.
King Fuad died in 1936 and Farouk inherited the throne at the age of sixteen. Alarmed by Italy's recent invasion of Ethiopia, he signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, requiring Britain to withdraw all troops from Egypt, except at the Suez Canal (agreed to be evacuated by 1949).
During World War II, British troops used Egypt as a base for Allied operations throughout the region. British troops were withdrawn to the Suez Canal area in 1947, but nationalist, anti-British feelings continued to grow after the war. The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 overthrew the Egyptian monarchy, eliminated the British military presence in Egypt, and established the modern Republic of Egypt.
- Osman, Tarek, Egypt on the Brink by Tarek Osman, Yale University Press, 2010, p.33
- Ziad Fahmy, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 138–39.